For Chris Willis — the powerhouse vocalist, lyricist, co-writer, and co-producer behind some of French producer/DJ David Guetta’s biggest hits, 2007?s “Love is Gone” and 2010?s “Getting’ Over You” — that time is now. And his coming out party for the dance and pop world is a series of three EPs, Premium (Songs From The Love Ship) Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, set for release consecutively in Fall and Winter 2011 via Veneer Records.
“This feels like a new beginning for me,” says the Dayton, Ohio-born, Atlanta-based singer/songwriter/producer. “My fans will finally get to see more of me, more of what I can do. Working with David Guetta has been an incredible journey and it’s been a whirlwind, surreal past few years performing to crowds up to 100,000 people all over the world. But I feel like I can exhale now and really begin to leap in and create from my soul and my heart. I’m beyond excited to share this with the fans around the world who have been supporting this journey so far.”
Willis’ journey didn’t begin when David Guetta came a-knocking in 2001 to work on that very first track, “Just a Little More Love,” from his 2002 album of the same name. And, he never dreamed of being a household name in the genre of dance. Rather, the artist’s path began at home with a mom who taught him piano (his “first love”) at age 10 and a dad who sings and turned him onto gospel and R&B greats such as Andréa Crouch, Hawkins Family, Gladys Knight and Donny Hathaway.
“I was raised in a Seventh-Day Adventist Church, listening to all kinds of church music and singing four-part harmony with my siblings in an a cappella group,” he says. “But at the same time, I loved Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Patti LaBelle, and even Cyndi Lauper- the first record I ever bought was ‘True Colors.’”
Due to his church-steeped upbringing, Willis’ first foray into music was in gospel and Christian. He signed to Warner Brothers Records as a gospel artist, then ended up on a pop-classical album, Handel’s Messiah – A Soulful Celebration, toured churches nationwide as a Christian singer, and eventually made his way into being one of the most-sought after session singer, songwriter and backing vocalists in the pop, R&B, and Latin worlds, with credits over the years that include American Idol stars Kelly Clarkson and Clay Aiken; gospel/Christian greats CeCe Winans, Amy Grant, and Take 6; venerable icons like Dusty Springfield, country chart-toppers Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers and Brooks & Dunn, and quintessential pop producers Quincy Jones and Desmond Child, who had him work on Ricky Martin records.
“Desmond really helped me bridge the gap between gospel and pop and kind of re-discovered me,” explains Willis. “He was a major catalyst in my shift from gospel to the more mainstream music that I also truly loved. When I first worked with Desmond in Miami, I was deeply in the closet. Being a gospel/Christian artist, you almost had to be. I had a hard time reconciling my sexuality with my spirituality and with being the type of artist I wanted to be. Living in Miami was an eye-opener. It set me on the path to eventually come out of the closet, tell my family, and finally be the artist I really wanted to be.”
With a reputation for being the go-to session guy in Miami, Nashville, and New York at this point in his career, Willis got a call from another unlikely man who would catapult his career even further and help him get one step closer to his musical destiny: the aforementioned David Guetta, who caught wind of Willis’ talents when he was in Paris producing Parisian boy band 2BE3?s album, Excuse My French.
The first song Guetta and Willis wrote together was “Just a Little More Love,” which reached No. 15 on Billboard’s Dance Music/Club Play Singles chart. Willis appears on 6 of the 13 tracks on that album. Willis and Guetta worked together for the next decade, with Willis contributing to 6 of the 12 tracks on Guetta’s second album, 2004?s Ghetto Blaster and to 4 of the 12 tracks on 2007?s Pop Life, which included the crossover hit “Love is Gone.”
But the hit-making pair’s greatest success coming in the form of Guetta’s fourth album, 2009?s Grammy-nominated One Love, which included the hits worldwide hit “Getting’ Over You” (which also featured Fergie and LMFAO). “Gettin’ Over You” topped the dance charts in the U.K. , U.S, and France while reaching the top five in Australia, Austria, Ireland, Italy, and New Zealand and garnering more than 90 million views on YouTube.
Along the way, Willis has attracted quite the global following of dance, pop, urban, and club fans, as well as celebrities who can’t sing his praises enough. Guetta calls Willis “the best singer on the planet.” Fergie declares he has the “voice of Heaven.” And, Akon says he has a “voice that punches through the party and gets everyone’s attention.”
Now, Chris Willis is grabbing everyone’s attention solely on his own. His debut dance-pop single, “Louder (Put Your Hands Up)” from Premium (Songs From The Love Ship) Part 1 reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Songs chart in January 2011 and garnered more than 3 million YouTube hits for its electrifying video by renowned director Billie Woodruff. Entertainment Weekly called the hit a “club banger,” while Billboard wrote, “The new solo single uses hard-hitting beats and a huge chorus to show that Willis can cater to dance music fans on his own.”
Premium (Songs From The Love Ship) Part 1 also features the super-charged, rock-infused anthem, “Too Much in Love,” that kicks off with the familiar sounds of Lenny Kravtiz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way” making the track a genre-defying crowd-pleasure. “This is my rock and roll, soul, dance, gospel party anthem,” says Willis. “I’m a huge Lenny Kravitz fan and wanted to add the rock and roll element of the guitar to this song.”
The EP runs the gamut of romantic themes – from trying to forget a heartbreak in “Faded,” a club head-banger written with dance artist Kimberly Cole, to “Can’t Stop Loving You,” written with Peter Rafelson (Madonna, Britney Spears, Elton John), a straight up love song about finding that perfect someone in the club, to “Alone,” Willis’ foray into the urban world about always being by someone’s side, to “Be There,” which Willis says is his nod to Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” The first EP also features a cool club twist on a classic R&B song, a cover of Sam Cooke’s “Stand by Me.”
“This release is me being true to myself as an artist and I think you hear a lot of what I’ve gone through in these songs,” adds Willis. “I’m stepping into a whole new freedom, a whole new world for me, and I just want to invite everyone along for the party.”
“I always say that Chris is the best singer on the planet… I love him as an artist as much as a friend and he has been my biggest inspiration.” – David Guetta
“He has a voice that punches through the party and gets everyone’s attention. I think he’s amazing on David Guetta’s ‘Love Is Gone’ which is my favorite song! Great job!” – Akon
“He has the voice of heaven.” – Fergie